Wallowing in Confusion

I thought I’d be outfitted by now.  I thought the more I researched equipment, the easier the choices would be.  Instead, the weeks are rushing by, the start of our thru-hike approaching with alarming speed, and I’m feeling less and less prepared.  I’m wallowing in indecision, anguishing over every item of clothing and equipment, unable to decide what to buy.  As a result, all I’ve bought so far are some incidental items – a few miniature tubes of Shoe Goo, some electrolyte replacement tablets, and a blaze orange buff.

supplies1Last weekend, for example, I decided to buy my pack.  After doing tons of research, studying the online forums as if they held the key to immortality, and querying every thru-hiker I met while hiking on the trail nearby, I’d made a list of several options I thought might work.  My husband walked into the store, tried on one pack – the ULA Circuit – and was sold.  He also picked up a pair of rain pants, completing his backpacking wardrobe.  Within minutes he was ready to leave.

Not me.  I spent three hours trying on packs.  I tested several sizes and styles.  I swapped out the belts and straps.  Then I stuffed the bags with different weights and clomped around the store, trying to answer the outfitter’s questions.  How did it feel?  (Like I had a pack on my back.)  Was the pack riding too low? (No idea.  Where is it supposed to ride?)  How about the belt? (What did he think?  He’d pulled it so tight I could barely breathe, then kept claiming that it was too big.)  I spent hours trying to understand the array of features, too inexperienced to know what to look for, and utterly bewildered by all the straps – load-lifting, compression, load-stabilizers.  How would I ever adjust a pack on my own?  I couldn’t even get the hang of taking it off! (A complicated hand-over-hand maneuver I didn’t have the flexibility to execute.) And when I did finally decide on a pack (the same pack as my husband’s), it turned out that they didn’t have the size I needed in stock.  In the end, all I came home with was a pack cover and some water purification tablets, along with instructions for ordering the backpack online.backpack2

Now panic is setting in.  I don’t have my sleeping system yet.  I don’t have rain gear, a stove, or even most of my clothes.  I’m feeling confused and stalled, the enormity of this undertaking starting to make me scared.  How can this be so easy for my husband and so hard for me?  And if buying equipment is this difficult, how on earth will I survive the trail?  I’m beginning to fear that I’m in way over my head.

 

 

 

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 12

  • Ruth morley : Aug 24th

    Gail, I understand your difficulty in making these choices, because I think we have many similarities. . But you’ve already made the hardest one: to do the AT. So many hikers whose blogs I’ve read advise to not totally obsess over the gear. The most important thing is that you’ll be out there on the trail, soaking up the experience and keeping the reasons for your quest in your mind when the going gets tough.

    That said, I’m sure I’ll be in a quandary myself this time next year when I begin my preparations for my 2018 flip flop through hike. But, as a friend advised me about life, “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good.” Every pack out there on the market today is so much better than what was offered just a few years ago, and those people made it. Remember that Granny Gatewood slung a duffle over one shoulder and used a shower curtain as her tent. Perhaps it would help to start with buying your tent, sleeping bag, food equipment first and then taking it with you to the store to see how you like how it fits and feels in various bags. Nothing will be absolutely perfect because you can’t predict at this time every need and preference you’ll have on the trail. You can always make changes during your hike.

    The most important thing is that this be an exciting, fulfilling, growing experience. Relax, give it a brief break. Breathe. Meditate daily. Keep your goals in mind.

    Good luck, and please remind ME of all this next year when I begin the process! 🙂

    Reply
  • Gail Barrett : Aug 24th

    Thank you, Ruth!!!! I needed to hear that advice. I think the real problem is that I have so little experience (none!). I can’t anticipate what I’ll need. And everyone I talk to has a different viewpoint. The outfitter I saw last week was totally against hammocks and trail runners, for example, even though most people think they’re great. He advised chemically treating the water instead of wasting time on filters, while the guy at REI advised the opposite (and they’ve both thru-hiked the AT). I know I have to make my own decisions, but it all feels overwhelming right now. Still, you’re right. The equipment really doesn’t matter that much as long as it is decent. And I love your friend’s advice. I need to make that my motto!

    And yeah, Granny Gatewood. I’m afraid I’ll never be as tough as that!!!!

    Reply
  • Gelfling : Aug 24th

    I can relate to your post so much that it feels like you extracted the thoughts from my head!!!! This past May I made the decision to try (er, do…there is no try) a 2017 AT thru-hike. No backpacking experience. Since then, I have read countless books, blogs, articles and lists focusing on gear. I have bought two bags (the ULA circuit didn’t fit all my stuff, so I bought an Osprey Aura 65) 6 pairs of shoes, both trail runners and hiking shoes, (apparently, I need a wide shoe to accommodate both the sock liner and the hiking socks), and multiple pairs of pants (apparently, they stretch as one walks). With every practice hike (in the flatwoods of Florida), I would discover yet another problem (e.g., water bladders are great until you need to unpack your entire bag to refill one… I recommend a water bottle as back-up). Thanks to REI’s generous return policy, I am not completely bankrupt. There were a few times when the anxiety of having my comfort (or life) depend on the decisions I make now became overwhelming and disheartening. But as Gail said, most thru-hiker journals and blogs repeat the sentiment: you’ll figure it out on the trail, so don’t stress (too much) now. The practice hikes have helped more than anything. I spent a few days in a campground in Pisgah National Forest testing out my gear, and I had so much fun that I forgot how stressful each decision had been. The hike will be worth it!

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Aug 24th

      I totally understand, Gelfling. I’m completely out of my element. I can’t even decide on a rain jacket! Every time I think I’ve found the right one I begin to waffle, afraid I’ve made the wrong choice. This indecision and second-guessing is driving me crazy! As far as the pack goes, about the only thing I learned at the outfitters is that I need to limit my weight. When he put 14 pounds in the pack (plus the two pounds the pack weighed) it felt great. When the weight went up to 23 lbs., though, I could really feel the difference. I decided that I simply have to keep the weight low, even if it means wearing the same shirt every day for six months. There is no way I’m lugging a heavy pack up and down those rocks. The only practicing I’ve done so far is on the AT near my house, but only day hikes. Once we have the rest of our equipment we’ll start doing some overnight and multi-day hikes. I envy your experience. It sounds as if you’re already learning a lot!

      Reply
  • Lisa : Aug 25th

    Ruth, I’m a section hiker, fairly new to backpacking but do fully understand. That said, having been on overnight hikes, seeing other gear, reading, etc; do know there is no right or wrong answer. Everyone has opinions. There’s lots of great gear out there at various price points. I suggest you focus on weights and reviews and your budget. Loaded Packs get heavy, buy the lightest gear your budget allows. Sierra Trading Post, REI are great resources. FYI. I have a Gregory 53 pack, motmot tungsten tent, marmot sleeping bag, big Agnes pad, snow peak gigs power auto stove, shun boots, Teva sandals, titanium pot & spoon & sawyer squeeze with backup Aqua Mira drops. Marmot precip rain gear. I only carry extra socks (wool) unless temps dictate as I’m only usually out a few days. Hope this helps.

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Aug 25th

      I agree about the weight, Lisa. I’ve already decided that I’m going to buy the lightest things possible, even if they are costly. I have arthritis in my hips, back, and neck. There is simply no way I can lug a heavy pack over the mountains. In fact, if equipment hadn’t gotten so light in recent years, I never would have considered doing this. Older hikers can’t rebound from strenuous activities like younger ones can. That said, even the ultra light market is crowded with options, which still makes decisions hard. It will be interesting to see if my husband and I still have the same equipment at the end of the hike!!! Thanks for the tips on equipment. I’ll check these items out!

      Reply
  • nikita : Aug 25th

    Good grief, just make a decision and get it over with! 🙂 Seriously, I started camping/hiking for real about ten years ago. The research and decision-making was overwhelming so, in the end, I just trusted my gut and bought what felt good + the accumulated info I’d collected so far. Gear is not a life-long decision! Just do the best you can, knowing you can get something different as you hike (yes, there are stores along the AT) or switch it out if you buy from a good retailer like REI. I still have the majority of my original gear, even if there are lighter versions now, because I bought high-quality stuff and it all works fine. I sold some pieces (geartrader.com) that I replaced and many more I realized I just didn’t need. Think about it – folks buy cars, houses, etc., based on their CURRENT life and what’s currently available, and just sell/buy as their lives/needs change later on. So jump off that merry-go-round of self-doubt, buy your stuff already, and focus on the FUN you’re going to have! (Note: in my opinion, the only place to truly obsess is with footwear.)

    Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Aug 25th

      I’m sure you’re right, Nikita. Once I gain some experience I’ll probably wonder why I obsessed. It’s just hard to know what I’ll need since I’ve never done this before and everyone is telling me something different. Hopefully I’ll learn as I go.

      Reply
  • Linda vance : Aug 25th

    Gail, Gail, Gail….. you’re waiting for a pack that will make the load weightless or comfortable. Give it up. If backpacks made the load light we’d all be marsupials. But with the pouch in back. After 40 plus years of backpacking, here is what I know: the first four days hurt. What you need to focus on is finding a pack that won’t hurt on the 5th day. That means a pack that, given your unique shape, does not rub uncomfortable on your hip bones, your collarbone, or the area just below the small of your back. And if you find a pack that is otherwise perfect, but some beer can cozies ( neoprene) and cut some custom padding. This is not like buying a mattress. The wrong mattress hurts forever. Packs, however awkward, eventually feel like an extension of you, like a trick knee or bum hip. I’m not saying buy the cheapest, most ill- fitting please acknowledge there is, but only don’t obsess on attaining pack nirvana.

    Reply
    • Linda vance : Aug 25th

      And please ignore the bizarre interjections and misspellings at which my phone excels….

      Reply
      • Gail Barrett : Aug 26th

        I figured your phone was at fault, Linda:).

        Reply
    • Gail Barrett : Aug 26th

      Great idea about the beer cozies, Linda! Thanks so much for the tip. I ended up with the ULA Circuit. I’m still trying to figure out how to adjust it properly (it just arrived in the mail yesterday), but it seems like it’s going to work. I like how lightweight it is. Once I build up to carrying some weight I should be able to tell if there are any problems or not. I am already happy with my choice of shoulder straps. The outfitter thought the J straps were much better made, but they rubbed against my arm pits and I knew that would drive me nuts. I went with the S straps and am so glad that I did. They really do fit me better. Anyhow, for better or worse I have a pack. Now I can focus on the fun part — filling it with gear!

      Reply

Leave a Reply to Gelfling Cancel reply